Las Vegas’ housing market has come a long way from its near-death during the recession. Prices have climbed, construction has picked up and the workforce has grown.
But before you set off the fireworks and declare “We’re back!” just remember: In some ways, the valley’s housing market remains one of the most troubled in the country.
Of course, Las Vegas is not the economic wasteland that it was after the bubble burst, when the roaring, easy-money-fueled economy collapsed into a steaming mess of layoffs, foreclosures, bankruptcies, plunging property values and abandoned construction sites.
Las Vegas has regained its footing from those days, but it’s not rock-solid yet. Consider:
— Lenders repossessed about 330 homes in the Las Vegas area in August, a fraction of the roughly 4,000 homes per month that were seized at various times during the recession, according to RealtyTrac. But overall, the share of local homes hit with a foreclosure-related filing last month was ninth-highest among large metro areas.
— An estimated 19.5 percent of Las Vegas-area homeowners with mortgages were underwater — meaning their debt outweighed their home’s value — in the second quarter. That’s down from a peak of 71 percent in early 2012 but still highest among large metro areas, according to home-listing service Zillow.
— Las Vegas’ unemployment rate was 6.7 percent in July. That’s down from 14 percent after the economy crashed but still second-highest among large metro areas, federal data show.
The valley’s economy, with its heavy reliance on tourism, can be prone to extremes. As local businesspeople have told me, when the U.S. economy is doing well, Las Vegas is doing great, and when the U.S. economy heads south, Las Vegas is in a nose-dive.
Even when emerging from the Great Recession, Las Vegas couldn’t help but take it to extremes. Investors flooded the valley to buy cheap homes in bulk to turn into rentals, pushing up prices at one of the fastest rates nationally.
By summer 2013, with prices up more than 30 percent from a year earlier, there was talk that another bubble was inflating, and a Zillow economist said the growth in Las Vegas home values was “insane.” Eventually, investors started backing out in droves, and price-growth cooled substantially.
The economy hasn’t fully healed from the recession, and it probably won’t for some time, given how badly Las Vegas got pummeled. But the housing market is showing some signs of normalcy. Resale prices are up from last year, though not outrageously higher, and homebuilders’ sales totals are climbing, but they aren’t even close to last decade’s levels.
And when it comes to housing in Las Vegas, boring can be better.
After all, when anyone can buy a house with no money down and flip it a month later, or when it seems everyone’s on the brink of foreclosure, being normal isn’t so bad.
Contact Review-Journal writer Eli Segall at (702) 383-0342. On Twitter at @eli_segall.